Lichdom Battlemage, or "how not to make a game"

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Samuel Tow
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Lichdom Battlemage, or "how not to make a game"
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After playing Lichdom Battlemage for a few hours, I feel sick. And I don't mean that in a funny-haha way, I'm literally woozy from the awful camera controls. This game... It reads like a list of all the things you SHOULDN'T do in a game. At every single decision point, the developers made not just the wrong choice, but also the one which will assault their players all but physically. I generally don't like to write reviews before I've finished a game, but I WILL NOT finish this one. I stopped when I realised I'd moved on to a new chapter without noticing, and was faced with the prospect of doing crafting AGAIN. No. I'm done.

I'll do this as a list of everything the game does wrong, but first a little introduction. What is this thing?

Introduction:

Lichdom Battlemage is a first-person magic-casting game with an emphasis on random loot drops and spellcrafting. It's rendered in the CryEngine 3 and tells a story I can't really follow and don't really care to follow, either. There's really not much more I can say about it than that, for there IS not much more to it than that. Not even exaggerating here. So let's get to what's wrong with the game.

Visuals:

This game looks BAD. Oh, sure, it uses the CryEngine 3 so it has decent model quality and texture resolution, as well as some nice-looking spell effects. But people's praise of its visuals is entirely unwarranted. The game's marred by staggeringly awful world design, for one. It started me off in a brown village and quickly descended me into catacombs. I then spent the next three or four hours running through samey-looking brown catacombs until you see them in your sleep. Every place I went to looked exactly like every place else, constantly turning me around and making me wish for some variety. After the world's worst boss fight (I'll get to that) I was teleported to a grey mountain pass, instead, and proceeded to spend the next three or four hours in samey ice caves and snowy passes, making a brief visit to a brown village. Everywhere I went looked exactly like everywhere else. I got the sinking feeling that I'm playing Quake, and I mean the original one.

Character design is uninspired, as well, not helped by a sorcerer with broken physics on his sleeves. Cound Shax (the villain?) has a somewhat interesting design, but the two player characters are dull and brown. The game seems to have around 12 enemy models spread around roughly 5 unique critter types (via a lot of model swaps) that you'll be fighting constantly, over and over and over again. Despite using the CryEngine 3, this is a rigidly linear game. Every location has one way in and one way out. Occasionally the path may branch, but it leads down a corridor to a secret and some minor treasure, they're back on the linear path. And the linear path is sequence of corridors dragging you by the nose from one arena encounter to the next, blocking you off with forcefields until you kill everything which teleports in from nowhere in wave after wave. There is nothing to look at but a succession of arenas linked together by boring corridors, populated with ugly monsters.

Combat:

Half of what you do in Lichdom Battlemage is fight, so it's a shame this is one of by far the worst combat systems I've seen in a decade - pretty much since Enclave, and that's saying A LOT. Broadly speaking, you're given three "sigils" (elements of magic) and a shield. Each sigil has a single-target attack, an AoE and a "nova" which triggers when you parry an enemy attack or use a "charged" teleport. Each of these can be attuned for damage, control or "mastery" which seems to be just soft control. The shield allows you to block, parry and teleport short distances. What magic you bring is subject to battle, but once you've selected it, that's what you have to fight with. And the fighting itself is just tedious.

In an effort to make combat needlessly complicated, the game makes direct damage spells worthless for the most part. They only deal real damage if "combined" with a hold which "stores" damage for other spells to cash in, or with "masteries" which... Do pretty much the same thing. What this means is you'll end up swapping your spells constantly, between freeze and fire and... Actually, I almost never used Mastery because it didn't do much. But it creates a hectic environment of constantly switching spells. Even the weakest, most mundane enemies require you to freeze them before you can do meaningful damage.

Worse, you're slow and sluggish and your enemies spam attacks. A "fast" attack animates in around two seconds. A "charged" attack needs to charge for about three or four. An AoE charges up for over six seconds. All the while, skeletons are beating your head with swords. You have three health bars, but that doesn't account for much when even a basic enemy takes out 3/4 of one health bar per swing, they swing quickly and repeatedly and attack you in large groups. They also run faster than you can, and that's not counting the ranged enemies who plink away at you constantly from afar.

Your shield is next to worthless. Blocking does very little beyond applying damage reduction to incoming attacks, and even then not all that many. Instead of 3/4, a blocked enemy attack hits you for around a third of one health bar. So you're still going to lose health bars even while blocking. And you can't block attacks with special effects. They still apply. Your only other choice is either dodge (which my chosen block didn't have) or parry, the so-called "fortified block." Parrying an enemy attack protects you from damage and fires off your Nova. In theory, anyway. There's a delay of around half a second between when you THINK you raised your shield and when the game thinks you did, so you'll get hit a lot. Oh, but if you raise your shield too early, you don't get to parry and eat a freezing pulse to the face.

Let me put it this way - you can die from full health to zero in less than two seconds, killed by enemies you didn't see or surrounded by enemies who attack and move much faster than you do. It's possible to play without taking too much damage with the correct use of blocks and holds and such, but you're put in a situation where failing ONE action that you have less than a second's worth of warning about and around a second's worth of window of opportunity to do can kill you INSTANTLY. This brings me to...

The boss fights:

Nowhere does the CRIPPLED combat system shine stronger than against bosses. I fought this demon thing who appeared to have a zillion hit points, sprinted much faster than I could ever hope to move and took out two and a half of my three health bars with one attack - an AoE that he doesn't have to aim and hits practically anywhere in the arena, and which still takes out a health bar if you block but don't parry it. And that's when he doesn't decide to be fancy and do the "combo" where he does this attack three times in a row, in rapid succession. And you fight this boss among constantly spawning "lesser" enemies, each of which can shave off one of your three health bars in less than a second if you don't notice them in time.

I died roughly 50-60 times against that demon, usually in one of two ways. Either I'd get ripped up by an archer, turn to freeze him and then the game decides I should die. From two full health bars, I simply die because behind me, the demon ground-pounded and killed me instantly. Or else I'll be fighting the demon for a solid 4 minutes, chip away 3/4 of his endless health bar... I'm doing great, I'm parrying his projectiles, I'm keeping him back with staggers. Then the game decides I should die, the demon punches the ground, my block delays and I die instantly. I died like that over 20 times alone. The reason I say I spent "three or four" hours in the catacombs is because I spent AT LEAST an hour on that one boss.

Oh, and every time the game sent me back to the last checkpoint, I had to sit through the same damnable conversation my character had with the villain - his cries of losing his patience neatly mirroring my own - then sit and watch the little scripted sequence where the demon breaks out, and that's after walking a really long road to get from the checkpoint to the fight. Every. Single. Time. You can't skip it because it's not a cutscene, it's just a part of the event trigger. "Haven't you said this before, Captain? This time, you die!" Oh, save me...

The second boss wasn't much better, either. A large demon who has a single attack - red magic projectiles which slowed me on impact, whereupon he would teleport next to me and attack in melee. The red projectiles cannot be blocked and they're homing so I could never really dodge them. They COULD be parried and - luckily - so could the demon's attack once he teleported in. I mostly died from the critters he spawned to waste my time. This one I beat in about a dozen tries over roughly 20 minutes, but it's still a boring slog of a fight chipping away at a stubborn health bar. The worst aspects of gameplay.

Crafting:

I freely admit that I'm biassed against crafting systems in general, so I was never going to like this one. But Lichdom Archmage found a way to make crafting even WORSE. Spells are crafted from three components - a sigil (fire, ice, lightning, etc.), a "shape" (single-targer, AoE, nova) and an "attunement" (damage, control, mastery). Thing is, loot is random and most of the time I ended up not having the "stuff" I needed to craft the magic I needed to upgrade at all. When I did have it, the stuff had the wrong secondary effects or had them in the wrong quality - always something missing. And ready-made magic never drops. You can only ever get components.

The interface is a mess, too, never showing you an inventory of what you have until you start crafting, with the inventory being a vertically-scrolling list like in a god damn iPhone game. Say I want to build a Fire Missile Damage, but find that my Missile item can be upgraded. Well, an upgrade system exists where you can sacrifice two items to "improve" a third. But now I have to back out of my selection, remember in my head that my Missile item is the Apprentice's Missile of Destruction, find it in the other list and upgrade it, then go back into crafting and recreate the whole spell again... Only to realise I want to upgrade my Damage item, too. *sigh*

And the items have so many properties, many of them random. Critical chance, critical damage, Apocalyptic chance (basically a critical on a critical), Apocalyptic damage, Mastery gained/used, control duration, etc. This is a recurring problem of mine with loot-heavy games, in that I have no means of judging whether an item I'm making is objectively better for my playstyle than the item I currently have, so I end up guessing. In fact, I rage-quit when I realised that I was getting level 3 magic and would have to go through the process of upgrading my spells AGAIN. To hell with that.

Plus, if you want to swap out your sigils - say you want to use Force instead of Fire - you lose progress. Sigils level up as you use them, gaining stat boosts. These stat boosts are lost when you unequip them, even if you re-equip them after the fact. Not that I'd want to, given the garbage that are the other sigils, but still - why?

Story:

Ugh... Of all the aspects of the game, this had the most promise. VERY few fantasy games tell the story of a mage. Oh, sure, the game may allow you to pick the mage class, but it'll still treat you like a basic fighter in storyline. I was looking forward to play a Battlemage, smiting my foes with arcane might... That didn't happen. My character started off as a jeweller, the bad guy killed her and sold her sister into slavery, then an ACTUAL mage brought her back to life with magical cufflings to seek revenge. Right off the bat, I'm not a Battlemage because I'm not a mage to begin with. I'm a just a peasant with a magical artefact. I wanted to BE the old wizard, but nope. That would be too much fun.

For another, magic in Battlemage is frikkin' BORING! It's the same magic I've seen in every other game. You start with fire - no choice. You then get ice, no choice. You then get Lighting or Force, but force magic doesn't do damage. In fact, it doesn't do much of anything, other than slow and immobilise. Then you get "corruption," i.e. parasites. Then you get Domination, i.e. mind control. *sigh* Really? Elemental and natural magic? Where are my energy blasts? Where's my black magic? Where are the abilities to tap into other realms of existence and call on the magics from therein? It's the same old boring line-up of fire-ice-lighting. UGH!

And the story itself is repugnant. Yet again, we've stuffed a woman in a refrigerator, sacrificed an innocent character to advance the story of the protagonist. Can we not come up with better ways to motivate characters? Because of this, the exchanges between my protagonist and her partner read like Monopoly cards. "Bad news. The valley is crawling with the Undead." "OK." *eyeroll* Look, I LOVE Jennifer Hale as a voice actress, but even she can't save a script THIS rancid. At one point, I literally witnessed a dialogue which read like this: "Don't worry, they're dead. But we have to move, and there are more of them ahead." End scene. Why did this even need to exist? It doesn't tell me anything, it isn't interesting, it's just dead space.

And the villain... OK, I get it, he's evil! Can we stop proving it, please? He starts the game acting like a sleezeball, killing one woman and kidnapping another to sell as a slave. Then he kills everyone in the town. Then he sets forth the undead. Then his men talk about how much they enjoy kicking puppies and hate the smiles on babies' faces. Then it turns out he's a cannibal, as you walk past a shack with flayed-open human carcasses hung like pigs in a slaughterhouse. And his Captain constantly uses the words "bitch" and "whore" to refer to women. WE GET IT! HE'S EVIL! The fucking Church of Unitology wouldn't take this guy! Jumping grandma on a stick, have some god damn moderation!

Technical issues:

If the rest weren't bad enough, the game's technically flawed, as well. The first few times I tried to run it, it hung on a blank screen, not responding so I had to kill it. After a reinstallation and trying to run the 32bit executable instead of the 64bit, I alt-tabbed out of the hung game to look for a solution online. Mid-way through reading a post on the subject... The game ran. Really? So I killed it and ran the 64-bit executable again. The game took FIVE MINUTES to load anything. No loading screen, no graphics, just a blank screen with Windows insisting it's not responding. Five minutes...

This got me to the main menu. I fixed up some options reset my resolution and started a new game. This resulted in a loading screen which lasted for another two minutes. Seriously? So I picked my character, sat through a clip art cutscene, then the game loaded for another two minutes before it let me play. Yeah, seriously. One time I thought I'd missed a secret location, so I tried going back to a previous save point via fast-travel. The game loaded for around two mintues... And then put me on the exact same spot as I was travelling from. By mistake, I'd chosen to fast-travel to the same waypoint I was at (something that I shouldn't be allowed to do if this game weren't horrible), so the game apparently decided to load... All the stuff that was currently already loaded. Utter farce.

And the game runs like crap, too. Sure, it's the CryEngine with all the bells and whistles, but I have an nVidia GeForce GTX780. "Oh, you have an nVidia card?" the game remarks. "Sorry, I'm optmisied for AMD." Oh, OK, so that's your excuse for a five-minute loading time and running me at 30-40 FPS at the best of times? Does that excuse the horrid mouse acceleration issues, too? Yeah, there's some kind of mouse smoothing or acceleration, causing my character to turn a fraction of a second after I've actually turned the mouse. This makes me seasick, almost to the point of throwing up. And no, it's not vertical sync - I turned that off. THIS is what made me physically ill. This lack of synchrony between mouse movement and on-screen response. And there are no controls for this at all. That's just how the game is.

Conclusion:

I hate Lichdom Battlemage. It's one of the worst games I've played in a LOOONG time, and I'm the guy who bought and played Dark Matter and Crevures. It does absolutely everything wrong, from a confusing, cumbersome crafting system which gives you no real feedback on whether you're doing well, to a stuff combat system which often likes to kill you from full health over split-second mistakes, to an uninspired visual style which lacks the actual "style" thing, to a story that's both insulting and bad. And the game costs 37 Euro on top of that. Kiss my pucker.

If all you ever wanted out of life was to play Heretic in the CryEngine 3, then you may like Lichdom Battlemage, you poor, unfortunate person. For everybody else, save your money for something more enjoyable. Like, I don't know... Getting a colonoscopy.